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Syracuse men’s basketball unconventional defensive look gave them a chance against Duke

Should Jim Boeheim have done more of this during the regular season?

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Syracuse Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange had been unable to stop the Duke Blue Devils in their two previous meetings. Without Jesse Edwards and Buddy Boeheim on Thursday it seemed unlikely that they could slow down a high-powered offense in the ACC Tournament quarter-final. So Jim Boeheim went into his bag of tricks and pulled out a triangle and two defense to confuse the young Duke squad and give his limited squad a chance.

In the previous meetings Mark Williams dominated the paint shooting a combined 17-21 from the field and AJ Griffin dropped 11 3’s on the Orange. Most of the 29 3’s that Duke hit against Syracuse came after the ball went inside and came out and had the zone defense scrambling.

On Thursday Boeheim decided to match up on Griffin and Trevor Keels with Joe Girard and Symir Torrence. This left Cole Swider, Jimmy Boeheim and Bourama Sidibe charged with limiting Williams and Paolo Banchero in the paint. Early on Duke’s offensive rebounding was a problem as the Blue Devils had 8 second-chance points in the early going as the inside-out game hurt the Orange. The unique defense took away Banchero in the high post and dared Wendell Moore to hit enough open shots to make this another blowout,

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Syracuse Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Moore ended up scoring a team-high 26 points but it took him 20 shots to do so. He took a season-high 10 3-point attempts and at halftime he had 14 shot attempts while Williams had attempted only 2. For the game Griffin was 1-3 from the field and 0-1 from 3 so Boeheim took away the two players who had killed the Orange earlier.

Duke adjusted in the second half and got the ball inside and got a huge lift off the bench from Jeremy Roach who ended up 6-12 from the field and 5-10 from 3 including the dagger.

Despite the loss the strategy was smart. Covering more ground likely impacted Cole Swider’s effectiveness on offense but Jim Boeheim gave his team a shot, which is all fans can ask for. The one thing we can question is why he was so committed to playing the 2-3 for the majority of this season when the Orange struggled so much on that end of the floor (211th in KenPom defensive efficiency).

The loss of Jesse Edwards certainly limited Syracuse’s interior defense but had Boeheim mixed up his zone looks from time to time could the Orange have squeaked out a few wins on the back of the outstanding offense (16th in KenPom offensive efficiency). We’ll dive in more on the construction and deployment of this year’s roster but in Brooklyn, Boeheim showed he’s still got some tricks up his 14 zip sleeves.